Employers – How To Cope At Work In A Heatwave

sunThe British summer has finally begun after weeks of waiting for the Jetstream to move to its rightful place allowing the wonderful warm air to flood in after the coldest spring for years.

For those people on holiday near the sea there will be welcome opportunities to escape to the beach and the cooling sea breeze, however, for many employees stuck at work they may have to bear the un-comfortableness of working in searing heat.

Employers have a duty of care to ensure that their employees work in a healthy and safe environment which includes providing comfortable working conditions. There is no legal maximum temperature.  The Health & Safety Executive states during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.  However what is reasonable can be highly subjective.  Employers nevertheless need to ensure that heat exhaustion does not arise.

For employees working indoors there are various steps that can be taken – shading windows from bright sunlight, opening windows, switching on the air conditioning if that is installed, renting mobile air conditioning units, moving work stations away from direct sunlight, installing fans, ensuring a plentiful supply of drinking water and encouraging employees to drink it.

Employers may like to further consider the relaxing of any formal dress code issuing appropriate guidelines to ensure that staff doe not dress down inappropriately  turn up for work in totally unsuitable clothes such as very short skirts or shorts. Casual smart loose fitting clothes should be encouraged with a temporary relaxing of suits and ties if possible.  Guidance should be included in the employment contract or employee handbook.

Increased rest breaks may be considered so that staff can grab a break in the fresh air and take a cooling drink.

The introduction of flexi time may allow employees to travel to work earlier or later to avoid the rush hour traffic in sweltering temperatures.  The use of continental working hours could be temporarily adopted with early starts and late finishes and a long continental lunch hour.

For employees that work outdoors there is the additional concern of direct exposure to sunlight.  This can be avoided by modifying work routines that that high exposure and heavy physical work is not undertake during the intense sunlight hours of the day.  Employees should be encouraged to wear long sleeves, loose fitting clothes and hats.  Regular breaks should be taken in the shade and the use of high factor sun creams promoted.

Heat exhaustion is very serious.  The symptoms include headache, loss of concentration, giddiness, nausea, fainting, heavy thirst, vomiting, muscle cramps, pale skin, weak pulse and high temperature. Heat stroke can have disabling and even fatal consequences. Some people with particular medical conditions and those who are pregnant can be more vulnerable to heat exhaustion and a risk assessment may be needed.  This can include looking at work rate, working climate and worker clothing.

Whilst the British heatwave will be temporary there are many workers who work in high temperatures on a daily  basis such as in mines, boiler rooms, laundries, rick manufacturing, bakeries, foundries, smelting operations and compressed air tunnels, therefore unpleasant working conditions are a daily hazard and employers need to take the key steps to ensure their duty of care and apply many of these principles as well as considering the use of personal protective equipment where appropriate, providing training to employees in managing heat exhaustion and monitoring worker health.